(Not my image)
“No one’s head aches when he is comforting another.”
In the beginning of December(the December that was just here like two seconds ago), I bought a book, at Book Traders, in Olde City, Philadelphia, “When Things Fall Apart,” by Pema Chodron. It’s a Buddhist book that can apply to everyone. It’s a guide for how to handle fear and other unpleasant emotions when things are difficult in life. I was currently not experiencing anything difficult when I saw the book on the shelf and for the most part do not have many struggles in life or anything too severe in general, and so was not inclined to buy it, even though it seems like a very good book, but felt drawn to it for some reason. I love self-help/personal development books even if they are not ones I really need(not that I “need” any self help books but if we struggle with a certain issue, books on that topic may be helpful). For example, books about general anxiety or self-esteem issues, I have never struggled with serious general anxiety or self esteem issues(other than sometimes when I would be very depressed – I was diagnosed many years ago with Major Depressive Disorder and have been suicidal for years but much better now) but often find that even they have inspiring, uplifting things that can apply to me or are just pleasant to read. I especially love Buddhist books. I only had a limited amount of money for the bookstore and wanted to use it wisely! I kept going back to it, feeling that “pull.”
So I bought this book even though things were looking up and not difficult for me then.
Not long after I bought the book, my world crumbled on top of me. Again. And I was shattered to pieces.
Shattered to pieces.
Shattered. To pieces.
I wondered if I would, could ever be put back together again.
I have these “headaches.” They are not frequent but are shattering. There is no effective treatment currently known for them. They’re like cluster headaches. The source of the pain is in my jaw, not actually my head. It feels like a throbbing toothache but way, way worse than that, along with severe burning pain on the one side of my face & head. Like a hot rod being driven through the eye-socket. Like scalding hot water running down the one side of my face, taking all my skin off with it. It can feel like broken glass moving around inside my face or like someone clawing at all the muscles/joints/inner skin/elastic tendon; they feel like an icepick going through my temple, like part of my head being sliced off….They ruin me.
The pain can come and go off and on for days until it goes away for good(then comes back maybe the next year or more or sometimes sooner). It usually happens at night more than during the day.
Ultimately/Generally, I do not mind that I have these headaches. They are excruciating but it is what it is and they are rare; I don’t get them often. Once in a blue moon. Usually during Winter months, especially in December. They last a few days then gone!
I was hit with a couple somewhat recently. Ouch! I havent had one this bad in so long, I forgot how to handle them and found myself wanting to scream and hit my face(this kind of pain can provoke us to have the overwhelming urge to hit our face/head or bang it against a wall – it’s an unfathomable level of pain). I used to scream all night when I would have them years ago til my throat was raw, I lost my voice, and my mouth tasted of blood. I can’t remain still with them. I have to pace constantly all night long into the morning. Wringing my hands, keeling over, sometimes. I have once stayed awake for four days & nights straight with them. Not one moment of sleep in 4 days & nights. This was many years ago.
It’s a nightmare.
Hell on Earth.
They devastate my entire existence. They are powerful.
When I have these headaches and shortly after they end and when I vividly remember them even if I havent recently experienced one, I am reminded of the suffering and potential suffering of all of the world, of all sentient life. My deep empathy is brought out even more deeply. My compassion is set on fire and I long to heal the whole world but in a good way, not a depressing, helpless feeling even though I cant heal the world as I do not have that power. Just the feeling of that kind of compassion for others is beautiful and inspiring. Just to be in that state. These headaches inspire that compassion even more deeply in me.
When I get these headaches I am so, so happy for everyone who does not have them. Everyone I look at anywhere I go, I think at least that person is not suffering with one of these. And it’s so beautiful. Always, that heals me to think I am so thankful it’s me and not them. I want to take on all the head pain (and any other kind of pain that exists) there is in this life so no one else ever has to experience it, even if it would make my own pain worse, sevenfold.
These headaches rip me open and I am stripped to the bone. All layers of various experiences pulled back and stripped away, discarded, disregarded, dismissed. Specifics no longer matter. Raw agony effecting something universal. It is beautiful. It is agonizing.
All my innermost wisdom, my deep knowing, rising to the surface and bleeding out onto the world like hot, hot, hot lava. My face burning and throbbing and aching, the pain pulsing & screaming & burning relentlessly. Ripping me apart. Tearing me to shreds. Burning. Screaming. Burning.
Cruelty like I have never known before.
I brace myself as I begin my descent back to some primitive state, something animalistic unleashed in me, losing all sense of reasoning, all conditioning, all knowledge of human language, as I want to scream like a wounded animal in the night who knows nothing but anguish. I have always felt that they reduce me to half the woman I am and chain me to a world where there is nothing but fear & pain, and myself, where I lay amid the ruin of a life that a mere few seconds ago was complete, whole, sane…then destroyed in a matter of seconds, without warning. Without warning, I am a wreck on the floor in the fetal position holding or hitting my face and head, confined to Hell. Screaming in my head. Without warning, I am roaming the night, like a hungry ghost, screaming for some relief that never seems to come. Without warning, there is just fear and pain and me. And agonized screams that taste like blood.
With these headaches, I come face to face with the primal connection we all share, the basic humanness, the sentience, the potential. The underneath. And it is beautiful. So beautiful. To experience ruin like this so deeply, is a gift.
With these headaches, I know insanity; I know addiction; I know homelessness; I know all physical & emotional ailments; I know loss of all sorts; I know hunger & poverty & war & ugliness. I know callousness. I know what it is to be a criminal, a thief, a traitor. A wild animal. With these headaches, I am the predator and I am the prey.
I don’t know all of these things on the surface as I have never experienced them all themselves but I am intimate with the underpinnings, the core, the soul of them.
Through these headaches, I know destruction; I know desperation, despair, agony; I know impulse, rawness, destitution, longing, fear. I know aggression. I know Sickness. Something primitive. I am reunited with the most ancient ancestors and everyone who has come before me since the world began.
I know something gutteral. I know ruin.
And through this, I also know tenderness, compassion, love, humility. Beauty. Empathy. Gentleness. Oneness. I know wholeness. I know complete strangers who I will never meet or lay eyes on. I know beings who haven’t yet come into the world.
There is something about the raw, unearthly pain of these hellish headaches that deeply humbles me and allows me to experience a deep, deep oneness with all sentient life in a kind of way that nothing else does. I experience that oneness anyway but these headaches allow me a deeper intimacy with it. To know it at a greater depth. They allow me the advantage of breadth of all experience.
I think of all sentient life, human, animal, insect, whoever else may be out there. I hear their agonized screams, their pleads, their cries, the misery, I taste the longing, and I want to calm it all, to love away the hurt, to bring warmth and love where there is cold & yearning. I want to dry the tears of all who cry.
I want to love, love, love until the fear runs out. Then love some more. I want to love until the pain burns itself out. Then love some more.
I want to sate all hunger & quench all thirst.
Because I know this pain, I know all pain.
I know all despair.
I know it well.
I know the darkness and I know the light.
This pain is rare; most will never experience it, but there is something universal about the underpinnings of it, the desperation it brings, the fear, the dread.
There is something ancient at play. Something we have all known since beginningless time. Something we know irrespective of our location in the world. Something that knows no borders or customs or culture. If we were all stripped of all our conditioning, our culture, our skin, our superficial experiences, all our appearances, we would be identical in this something.
We all know or have the capacity to know the underpinnings of all experience. We all know the raw pain of these headaches if we know any suffering or pain or fear at all.
Most of us have experienced or can experience some sort of fear, anxiety, desperation, concern, pain, anger, terror, loss, love…we don’t need these headaches to bring us those experiences. The headaches are a reminder. A gift.
All painful experiences are a gift in disguise. They give us the opportunity to rise above and evolve into something even better, to reach out into the uni-verse and love someone today, even a complete stranger. Painful, terrifying experiences may seem like a malicious enemy but they can really be a loving friend to us if only we let them. A friend who shows us “tough love” on the surface while ultimately allowing us to deeply know a warm, soft tenderness at the core of our suffering, at the core of all suffering. A tenderness so sweet & loving, so warm, so gentle but so fierce.
I read something in this book that seems to mirror my own experience here. I will share an excerpt:
“I once attended a lecture about a man’s spirtual experiences in India in the 1960s. He said he was determined to get rid of his negative emotions. He struggled against anger and lust; he struggled against laziness and pride. But mostly he wanted to get rid of his fear. His meditation teacher kept telling him to stop struggling, but he took that as just another way of explaining how to overcome his obstacles.
Finally the teacher sent him off to meditate in a tiny hut in the foothills. He shut the door and settled down to practice, and when it got dark he lit three small candles. Around midnight he heard a noise in the corner of the room, and in the darkness he saw a very large snake. It looked to him like a king cobra. It was right in front of him, swaying. All night he stayed totally alert, keeping his eyes on the snake. He was so afraid that he couldn’t move. There was just the snake and himself and fear.
Just before dawn the last candle went out, and he began to cry. He cried not in despair but from tenderness. He felt the longing of all the animals and people in the world; he knew their alienation and their struggle. All his meditation had been nothing but further separation and struggle. He accepted-really accepted wholeheartedly-that he was angry and jealous, that he resisted and struggled, and that he was afraid. He accepted that he was also precious beyond measure-wise and foolish, rich and poor, and totally unfathomable. He felt so much gratitude that in the total darkness he stood up, walked toward the snake, and bowed. Then he fell sound asleep on the floor. When he awoke, the snake was gone. He never knew if it was his imagination or if it had really been there, and it didn’t seem to matter. As he put it at the end of the lecture, that much intimacy with fear caused his dramas to collapse, and the world around him finally got through.” (pp. 3-4)
What a beautiful reminder of how, fundamentally, we are all the same. No matter what, we are all capable of suffering. We all gravitate towards relief, pleasure, happiness, comfort, life and all ultimately want to avoid fear, and pain, and suffering of any sort. We can use our own experiences with fear and/or pain to teach or remind us of compassion and empathy. Remember whatever we are experiencing, others are as well or already have or can experience it. We are not alone in our fear, pain, anger, suffering….and we can use it to deepen our love for all sentient life, let it bring us closer to the oneness that we all share, the humaness, the sentience.
Let it humble us and inspire us.
Let us be kind to all living beings. They are us. We are them.
Let us bow to the things that bring us so much fear & pain. They are our sacred Teachers. They are the bridges that lead us to each other. Let us bow before them in extreme gratitude and boundless reverence.
Here are two videos of young women experiencing headaches similar to the ones I have:
These videos are kind of “graphic.” The two women are screaming hysterically, uncontrollably, in unimaginable physical agony. It’s not an exaggeration or overreaction. It is literally impossible to exaggerate the pain of these attacks. It is so, so, so severe already, there is no way to exaggerate it. If you do not have earphones and there are people around, you may not want to click on the links with volume up. If you want to click on them at all.
They were diagnosed with Cluster Headache Disorder(CH), considered to be the worst pain known to medical science. Many women with them who have given birth, have said it’s worse than the pain of childbirth! Holy 💩!!
I was not diagnosed with this headache disorder but I have another disorder that mimics cluster headaches, migraine headaches, tension headaches, sinus headaches, and severe toothaches, and other kinds of pain. My disorder is not as bad as Cluster & Migraine disorder. My pain is less frequent & often less intense. But it does get so bad.
For Cluster Headache Disorder, breathing in oxygen through a machine can help with the pain sometimes. They themselves are not life threatening but many people become suicidal while having one of these headaches, not necessarily because of depression, but because the pain is so immense it’s hard to imagine living even another second with it. The one young woman is in a hospital participating in a trial thing if I understand correctly.
Wouldn’t you give anything to take their pain away? I would in a second take it all on myself if I could, to stop theirs. I find their suffering so unbearable. But it doesn’t depress me. It doesn’t drag me down. It motivates me to want to act on kindness in any way I can. It inspires in me a deeper love, a higher love.
“Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart; I’ll look inside mine”❤
Also, I haven’t yet read the book in its entirety but what I have read up to now, is very inspiring, as you can well see!
“I’m down on my knees again tonight.”
This is a song about a mom & a dad on the verge of losing a sick child to death. It’s a beautiful, warm, tender, gut-wrenching song. It guts me and leaves me hollow inside. I do not know their pain but the deep, desperation of the message and choice of words and the music has always reminded me of the pain/desperation of cluster headaches & similar pain. Of course, I think the struggle of having a sick child is way, way worse. But there is just something about the desperation here that resonates with me in a deep way.
When things fall apart, let us remember to take all the life lessons, the pain, the wisdom, the fear….and let it fuel us to reach out & love others.
Much love and light to you who is reading this. I wish you peace, love, & comfort. Joy, hope, and gratitude. Health & happiness, always.